Blue Marble

Why Miles Per Gallon Suck

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 10:04 PM EDT

Our calculations about car efficiency tend to be wildly off the mark. The Fuqua (I am not making that up) School of Business at Duke University studied it every which way and found that improving the most energy inefficient cars with ones that are even slightly more efficient saves WAY more fuel than trading in your not-so-bad Honda Civic for a hybrid. Most of us assume otherwise. The problem arises from the fact that we're talking miles per gallon when we should be talking gallons per mile. The video explains all.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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If Cars Were Computers...

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 9:40 PM EDT

800px-SSEM_Replica.jpg If cars were computers then one liter of fuel would provide all the UK's needs for one year and oil reserves would last the expected lifetime of the solar system. That is, if efficiency in cars had improved at the rate computers have. This according to Steve Furber, a computer engineer at the University of Manchester, in a lecture marking the 60th anniversary of the 1948 computer known as The Baby (also known as the Small Scale Experimental Machine). Furber notes that computers are now 50 billion times more energy-efficient than The Baby, which weighed a ton, took up a whole room, and was the forerunner of all modern computers.

I'm not sure we can shrink cars & their carbon footprints fast enough. Howzabout we shrink ourselves instead? Genetic engineering trumps computer engineering and nine billion teensy weensy people 42 years from now doesn't look so bad. No worse than a swarm of locusts.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

Who Needs Condoms When You Have Midwest Pesticides?

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 7:42 PM EDT

As if the Midwest weren't dealing with enough already, doctors now worry that the shockingly low sperm count of mid-Missouri men means there's something in the water, or worse.

Nothing's proven, yet, but all eyes were on pesticides after diazinon, an insecticide, and metolachlor, an herbicide, were found in a large number of the semen samples.

Local researchers have requested funding from the NIH to look further into the issue but have been turned down. The results of a CDC-conducted test will be released this summer.

Until then, if Missourians are looking to have kids, perhaps they should try on one of these. [H/T: Grist]

—Brittney Andres

London's Dance-Powered Nightclub for Eco-Hedonists

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 5:10 PM EDT

nightclub.jpgEver yearn to get organically plastered, then hit the power-generating dance floor that turns your fancy footwork into electricity? No, this isn't a scene from a Moby video, and yes, you really can indulge those green fantasies, thanks to climate change organization Club4Climate which is launching a sustainable eco-nightclub in Britain next month.

Patrons can knock back organic liquor, then visit the loo and flush symptoms of their overindulgence away with recycled water. Pounding dance moves absorbed by the tricked-out floor will supply 60% of the club's energy needs, and admission is free if you can prove you didn't roll up in a car—but not before you sign a pledge to fight climate change.

Sounds like a more palatable version of Rotterdam's urine- and sweat-powered nightclub, Watt, slated to open in September.


Do Your Condoms Work?

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 2:32 PM EDT

If you happened to read the tiny print on the back of a box of Durex Avanti condoms before you bought them, you'd see this: "The risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD's), including AIDS (HIV infection), are not known for this condom." Hmm. Since most people, I think, actually use condoms specifically for those purposes, and not for the diminished sensation in their genitals, should this product really be on the market?

Read more about it here.

US Fish and Wildlife: Oil and Gas Extraction Have Nothing - Nothing! - To Do With Arctic Habitat Loss

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 3:40 PM EDT

Loath to go too many days without flouting some kind of law, the Bush administration last week granted permission for seven oil companies to harass and potentially harm polar bears while drilling for oil and gas in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, provided they do so unintentionally. Polar bears were just recently classifed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, an obvious lapse in judgment the administration apparently rushed to rectify. The "final rule" (.pdf) states that "The Fish and Wildlife Service has developed regulations that authorize the nonlethal, incidental, unintentional take of small numbers of Pacific walruses and polar bears." To "take", as defined in the document, means "to harass, hunt, capture, or kill" a marine mammal, or to attempt to do so.

So, if I read this correctly, Fish and Wildlife has just authorized oil companies to accidentally harass, hunt, and capture polar bears. While no extraction is yet underway, it seems fair to conclude that the government is covering its legal backside in anticipation of the inevitable havoc that seven companies' worth of oil and gas exploration will wreak.

Which would make sense, if the agency were not also claiming that the exploration won't cause any trouble at all. Speaking to an AP reporter, Fish and Wildlife director H. Dale Hall insisted that "the oil and gas industry in operating under the kind of rules they have operated under for 15 years has not been a threat to the species...It was the ice melting and the habitat going away that was a threat to the species over everything else."

But as the article continues, "exploring in the Chukchi Sea's 29.7 million acres will require as many as five drill ships, one or two icebreakers, a barge, a tug and two helicopter flights per day, according to the government. Oil companies will also be making hundreds of miles of ice roads and trails along the coastline."

All of which I'm sure has nothing to do with "the ice melting and the habitat going away."

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Gas Prices Driving You Crazy? At Least No One's Trying to Burn You Up In Your Truck

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 5:00 PM EDT

fuel%20protest.jpg

The London Evening Standard just published a harrowing report detailing the large-scale, violent fuel protests going on right now all over the world. In more than a few countries, shortages have all but halted the national economies as fishermen, grocers, farmers and truck drivers either refuse or find themselves unable to do their jobs.

You can read about it, but it's the photos that are really sobering: thousands of trucks blockading the road to the Thai capital city of Bangkok; protestors kicking a riot policeman; a lone injured farmer kneeling, arms outstretched, before a line of riot police. In Spain, where things seem particularly bad, a working truck driver narrowly escaped attempts by his striking peers to burn him alive in his cab; in Portugal, farmers say they will have to throw away over half a million gallons of fresh milk because there is no more fuel and no more storage.

This is not happening here in the US. Yes, gas prices are high, and they're disproportionately affecting our country's rural poor. And yes, our leaders continue to suggest startlingly short-sighted solutions. But so far, people seem to have decided to grin and bear it.

Why no riots? I'm not saying truck-burning is the way to go. But the national forbearance that's attended this year's jump in prices is a little unnerving. Even those suffering rural Southerners don't seem angry; just sad and mostly resigned. Have we lost so much faith in our government that we won't even bother demanding action? Or are we just not sure what to demand?

Evolution Before Our Eyes: How Macaques Learned To Fish

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 1:25 PM EDT

fishing%20macaque.jpg

Scientists in Indonesia recently published a paper documenting their field observations of long-tailed macaques going fishing. Even better, they don't just reach into the water to grab their own fish—they watch other macaques at work and learn from their techniques. One researcher theorized that "perhaps a couple of generations back, one primate caught a fish and it was subsequently copied." The scientists suspect that the macaques fish when no other food is available, though they stress that not enough data exists to say for certain.

Okay, so this is cool. It's not often that we see species adapt to changing conditions at a rate that matches the change. (Recovery from human threat and habitat depletion is rare enough.) Further study of this species could teach us a lot, not only about how macaques adapt to changing conditions, but about how we might adapt as well. Unfortunately, if Congress is any indication of how we're doing, right now the macaques are coming out ahead.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from sebr.

New Report Findings on Middle Class Health Insurance

| Wed Jun. 11, 2008 3:06 PM EDT

Universal health care might be something even the staunchest Republicans start to consider after this news:

According to a report released this week by The Commonwealth Fund, 25 million Americans were underinsured in 2007—a 60 percent jump since 2003.

And it's the middle class who's feeling the pain, again.

What does being underinsured get you?

New Pyramid Scheme Traps Wastes & Tourists

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 8:49 PM EDT

800px-All_Gizah_Pyramids.jpg Here's a whacky idea you gotta love. A Dutch engineer suggests solidifying toxic wastes into concretelike slabs and building urban pyramids that trap wastes and tourists alike. Schuiling rightly suggests that it's dangerous and unsustainable to simply bury solid toxic waste in lined deposits underground, the current best practice. He says such waste should first be immobilized by mixing with a cement and immobilizing additives to reduce the possibility of toxic materials leaching into the earth and ground water. Cities could vie for the best ways to display their neutered toxins:

Great and award-winning works of art have been made from the most outlandish of materials from Chris Ofili's depiction of the Holy Virgin Mary encrusted with elephant dung and Damien Hirst's pickled tiger shark representing life and death to the unmade bed of Tracey Emin and the unspeakable bodily fluids of avant garde duo Gilbert & George. But all of these works will pale into insignificance if a plan to dispose of solid domestic and even toxic industrial waste by building solid monuments to waste is undertaken.

Brings to mind those municipal "art" projects (cows on parade, party animals), where many of the same blank sculptures are decorated by different stoners, er, artists. Think of it. Pyramids jauntily decorated with skull-and-crossbones, international biohazard symbols, warning signs, or logos of corporate polluters. Although if you really want to trap tourists, giant halftone images of fallen celebrities, or laser light show screens.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.